Compiled and edited by a monk of the St. Tikhon’s Monastery
(Please get the full version of this book at your bookstore)
“These Truths We Hold.”
The Holy Orthodox Church:
Her Life and Teaching
Compiled and edited by a monk of the St. Tikhon’s Monastery
1. A Brief History of the Orthodox Church.
The Holy Apostles.
The Seven Councils.
The Great Schism.
Notable Fathers of the Early Period.
Notable Fathers of the Early Byzantine Period.
Notable Fathers of the Later Byzantine Period.
The Conversion of the Slavs.
The Conversion of Russia The Russian Orthodox Church.
World Orthodoxy Today.
Orthodoxy in America.
Other Orthodox Communities in America.
2. The Church Building and its Servers.
The Altar and Its Furnishings.
Candles and Their Symbolism.
Church Servers and Their Vestments.
3. Orthodox Worship.
The Five Cycles.
The Divine Liturgy.
Liturgy of the Faithful.
The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great.
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.
Short Glossary of Liturgical Terms.
Concerning Bows and the Sign of the Cross.
Fasting Seasons and Days.
Great Lent and the Paschal Cycle.
The Date of Pascha.
Sundays of Preparation.
Passion (Holy) Week.
4. Feasts of the Orthodox Church.
The Twelve Great Feasts.
Great Feasts of the Paschal Cycle.
The Descent of the Holy Spirit (50th day after Pascha).
The Feast of Feasts-The Holy Pascha of the Lord.
5. Orthodox Monasticism.
The Monastic Tonsure.
6. Orthodox Dogmas and Doctrines.
The Symbol of Faith (The Creed).
Concerning the Life of the World to Come.
The Ten Commandments.
The Foundations of Christian Morals.
The Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12).
The Most-Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.
7. The Holy Icons
Icons of the Most-Holy Theotokos.
8. The Holy Sacraments.
The Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion).
Holy Repentance (Penance — Confession).
Ecclesiastical Titles Patriarch.
The Anointing of the Sick.
9. Orthodox Prayer.
Conditions for Prayer.
Mechanics of Prayer.
St. John Chrysostom on Prayers.
The Lord's Prayer.
The Church's Prayer for the Dead.
The Jesus Prayer — Prayer of the Heart.
The Psalter — a Book of Prayer.
10. The Holy Bible.
The Old Testament.
Greek Additions to the Old Testament (Apocrypha).
The New Testament.
Great Prayers of the Bible.
Scripture Readings Throughout the Year.
Scripture Readings for Special Occasions.
For Other Occasions:
11. Christian Symbolism.
Many are prone to saying there is no Orthodox culture in America; religious culture is something that comes from Europe or the Middle East; or else it must be dug up from the very ancient past, from which we must interpret and reconstruct meaning.
In fact, this is not necessarily true. It is said by some with humor that tradition is only as old as what our parents and grandparents taught us. Actually, there is profound truth in this. A cultural tradition is not an abstract reconstruction, but those truths, values and behavior commonly practiced, observed, held and understood by one generation and passed on to the next. There is a pattern of customary beliefs, a way of doing and explaining things, that is observably the faith of our fathers, passed on to us as those truths we hold.
The compilation of this book is an effort to gather from an on-going tradition of piety that which is traditional, for many, reinforcing the familiar — but equally beneficial, familiarizing many with an Orthodox continuity of things commonly observed. The style of themes, attitudes, expressions and images is popular in the sense that it has been the experience of Orthodox people in their own life and worship, representing how they were taught, what they have come to understand, and thus, have passed on to us.
It is uniquely Orthodox that theology is not solely the scholarly pursuit of a specialized class of clergy. We can, with much benefit, come in touch with what has been traditional for our people in Orthodox parishes for many generations as a theology of piety and practice. The necessary continuity for growth is to have some understanding of these truths commonly held by the Orthodox, and to be able to say, These Truths We Hold.
The teachings of the Orthodox Church are concerned primarily with the salvation of mankind through Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This salvation is expressed in the change which occurs in the soul before and after death, and in eternal blessedness after the Resurrection of the Dead. The means for achieving these blessings are faith, adherence to Christ and obedience to His teachings, all of which is facilitated by the Divine Grace of the Holy Spirit, imparted through the Sacraments, among which the Holy Eucharist occupies the central place.
Only in the Church — the Mystical Body of Christ — can the Holy Eucharist be celebrated, and all the other Sacraments are grouped around it. By receiving and partaking of the Precious Body and Blood of the Lord, the sons and daughters of the Church become communicants of the Lord Jesus Himself, constituting His very Body, which assumes true reality on earth in the Church of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:15-16, etc.).
Only by belonging to the Church, or, in other words, being in communion with the very essence of Christ through the Holy Eucharist, can one attain salvation unto eternal life. And who can be regarded as members of the Church? The answer is quite clear: all those who have been properly baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the true Son of God come in the flesh (1 John 4:2-3), and who are united by the grace of the Sacraments, in particular the Holy Eucharist administered by the Priesthood of the Apostolic Succession.
The whole life of the Church is based on an organic bond between the hierarchy and laity. We must recall that the principle of an ecclesiastical hierarchy was set forth by the Lord Himself, Who said to His disciples, I have chosen you out of the world (John 15:19) and Who said elsewhere, He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him Who sent Me (Luke 10:16). This hierarchy consists of a line of direct and immediate successors to the Holy Apostles through the grace of the laying-on of hands (cf. Acts 1); these successors are the Bishops, and through them the Priests and Deacons of the Church. The Sacraments may be administered only by the Bishops, but in order to make them available to a greater number, their administration is rightly entrusted to Priests (who can be ordained only by Bishops). Following the teachings of St. Ignatius of Antioch († 107), then, where this true hierarchy is absent, the Church of Christ is absent [To the Trallians].
St. Cyprian of Carthage († 258) points out the unbreakable unity between Believers and the Church: “A man cannot have God as his Father if he does not have the Church as his Mother” [On the Unity of the Catholic Church, 6]. This is self-evident, since one cannot think of God and the Church as being apart from each other. God is salvation, and God's saving power is mediated to man in His Body, the Church.
For this reason, the Orthodox Church regards herself as the One Holy-Catholic and Apostolic Church, since otherwise, salvation would be possible in any Church. Thus she says that outside the Church there is no salvation! This is so because, as one prominent Orthodox theologian has put it, “salvation is the Church” [G. Florovsky, Sobornost: the Catholicity of the Church].
But, does this mean that everyone outside of the Church is, of necessity, damned and those visibly within the Church saved? The answer is an emphatic No! As the Blessed Augustine noted: “How many sheep there are without, how many wolves within” [Homilies on John, XIV, 12]. There may be members of the Church who are not visibly such, but whose membership is known to God alone. If anyone is saved, he must, in some sense, be a member of the Church, but in what sense, it is not always possible to say. The Spirit of God blows where it will, and, as St. Irenaeus points out, where the Spirit is, there is the Church!
In any case, the final judgment is left to God. As the noted Orthodox theologian, A. Khomiakov so eloquently asserts:
Inasmuch as the earthly and visible Church is not the fullness and completeness of the whole Church which the Lord has appointed to appear at the final judgment of all creation, she acts and knows only within her own limits; and...does not judge the rest of mankind, and only looks upon those as excluded, that is to say, not belonging to her, who exclude themselves. The rest of mankind, whether alien from the Church, or united to her by ties which God has not willed to reveal to her, she leaves to the judgment of the great day [The Church is One, Part 2].
The Church, knowing that outside her bounds there is no salvation for the outcast (with the conditions outlined above) and that such is doomed to destruction, nonetheless cannot permit herself to be excessively severe, closing her doors once and for all to the sinner who could return to the fold — for to do so would be to appropriate for herself the chastising judgment which is God's alone. The Church simply requires that the sinner who wishes to return, truly and sincerely repent and atone for his sins. This is because the Church sees the primary cause of spiritual destruction for one outside the Church as the failure to partake of Holy Communion, that is, to be in communion with the very Essence of Christ (we speak here only of the salvation or destruction of the Christian).
Therefore, as Orthodox we say that the Church of Christ is the community of all Believers, externally directed and organized by the hierarchy (Bishops and ordained clergy), joined together spiritually by the constant presence of the Holy Spirit, Who manifests His grace in the Sacraments. And it is precisely by partaking of the Sacrament of Sacraments — the Holy Eucharist — that one is mystically united with Christ and becomes part of His mystical Body, the Church.
With the above in mind, a concise exposition will be presented in the following pages concerning this Church of Christ — the Holy Orthodox Church — and will examine her traditions, her teachings, and her practices. Hopefully, a careful reading of the chapters which follow will enable one to more fully appreciate These Truths We Hold.